Many years ago, I was alone with my beloved mother-in-law for her last hours. I took the chair beside her hospital bed and held her hand. The minutes passed to the rhythm of the respirator. I analyzed her left hand in a way that you would never do with a person were they aware. I memorized every wrinkle, every fingernail, every blood vessel and wondered about all the things those hands had held, all the people they had touched, all the work they had done. Most of all, I thought on how those fingers had caressed my husband, as an infant, as a little boy, as a man, and how they had been nearly the first to wrap around my babies the moment they entered their second estate.
It was a sacred experience two days later to dress her body. My sisters and I were filled with reverence, as if in a holy act. Though her spirit animated that physical tabernacle, we knew it was the body which actually did all the important things: rocking a baby, wiping a tear, stroking a forehead, tying a shoe, feeding a family, kissing a cheek, supporting an elbow, packing a bag, waving good-bye. Mother was known as the consummate “lady” – always pretty, fit, well-groomed, strong, and ready to serve, so we painted her nails, styled her hair and brushed pink on her very still cheeks. We did it because we revered her soul: the spirit we loved AND the body who loved us.
From that exexperience I learned that I had put too much emphasis on “mastering” my body, instead of figuring out how to work in harmony with it: reminding myself of the authentic reasons for having a body: to build the Kingdom of God on earth by freely sharing what my body can do for family and others. (Stretch marks, grandma jelly-bellies, dishpan hands, and dark circles under the eyes have a glorious aspect!) In this paradigm, caring for and respecting the body is not only an advantage in this life, but will be “so much the advantage in the world to come”. Who, I reasoned, will have the greatest satisfaction on resurrection morning – she who revered, honored, and shared that part of her soul called “body”, or she who ill-fed, hoarded, complained about, or degraded it? My beautiful mother-in-law will certainly be resplendent when celestial-ized, having glorified God in spirit and body.
I was thinking about these things at dawn when, shivering, I closed the gap between me and my honey. He moaned, just conscious enough of the freeloader on his back to protest. “Whose body is it anyway?” I whispered. “If I give you my body, you have to give me yours!” He must have got the point because he rolled over, put his arm around me, and drew me in tight before falling back to sleep. At that blissful moment, sharing my body was all right with me.
Mona is one of our newest contributors and muses at Mona's Gospel Musings every Sunday. She is author of With Mine Own Hand: The Musical Account of Nephi.
Photography from: Dreamstime